Going into the fifth ODI between India and South Africa at St. Geroge’s Park in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday, former India batsman and now commentator Sanjay Manjrekar said that all-rounder Hardik Pandya wasn’t exuding the confidence that could have skipper Virat Kohli trusting him with bowling 10 overs. While Pandya had undoubtedly been below-par in the first four games in the ODI series, he rose to the challenge on Tuesday as his 9 overs yielded the crucial wickets of AB de Villiers and JP Duminy. More importantly, he kept hitting the 140kph mark with ease as the Proteas found him extremely difficult to handle.
An economy rate of 3.33 after 9 overs gives enough hint that Pandya has the ability to put the white kookaburra ball to good use. But yes consistency is an issue for sure as he picked only 1 wicket in the previous 4 games and didn’t really look the most impressive bowler around. But Tuesday’s show will definitely have given skipper Kohli a lot of confidence as he has backed the young all-rounder and even compared him to the likes of Ben Stokes.
Coming in to bowl on a sluggish wicket, Pandya first hit the outside edge of Duminy’s bat, for Rohit Sharma to complete a good catch at second slip and then got one to pitch just short of the driving length to take the edge of de Villiers’ bat. While Duminy was clearly beaten by the angle, ABD’s shot was more about over-confidence. But with the two wickets, Pandya did repose the faith shown in him by his skipper and chief coach Ravi Shastri.
Not to forget his livewire fielding that saw him run out Hashim Amla and bring the Indians right back into the game. The opener looked in sublime form and was going strong on 71 when he pushed one to mid-off and set out for a quick single. Pandya was agile as ever and picked the ball up and knocked down the stumps at the non-striker’s end, to catch Amla millimeters short of his ground.
And Pandya finished the day with another show of unconventional exuberance as he picked up a one-handed catch from right in front of Shikhar Dhawan’s face to send back Shamsi off Kuldeep Yadav’s bowling.
Former South Africa skipper Kepler Wessels too echoed Manjrekar’s sentiments and said that the Indian team might have to look at some other options in the bowling line-up going into the 2019 World Cup, but then, English conditions should suit Pandya and his type of bowling further.
Also, skipper Kohli has already made it clear that the team management is already looking at all these games as a build-up to the 2019 showpiece event.
“Every team has a vision of the 2019 World Cup and that's what we need to plan for, but for now 4-1 seems great and we'll look to wrap it up well. We want to win 5-1 for sure, that doesn't change, but there'll be a chance for others to step in as well. The first priority is to win and we'll do anything to do that again,” he said at the end of the 5th ODI.
While Pandya clearly needs to up the consistency, he surely has the talent and heart to shine on the big stage.